What more does rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and the upstart Dallas Cowboys need to prove?
A surprising start to a season of answering questions and checking boxes crescendoed with Sunday’s shockingly overwhelming 30-16 victory against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
This is where the Cowboys’ run was supposed to stop, considering Dallas was 1-9 all time at Lambeau Field and had lost five consecutive games to the Packers.
But a Cowboys team that has already proven they can win without injured quarterback Tony Romo and injured receiver Dez Bryant as well as with a rookie quarterback answered the call in dominant fashion with Prescott going from historic to possibly permanent.
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Prescott continued his breathtaking rookie run, completing 18 of 27 for 247 yards and three touchdowns, while surpassing Tom Brady for the most passes to start a career without an interception.
He was joined in a starring role by fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, adding an exclamation mark to his rise as the league’s best running back with a career-high 157 yards rushing against NFL’s top-ranked run defense. And the maligned Cowboys defense forced four turnovers to quiet the echoes at historic Lambeau.
A streaking Cowboys team that won four games all of last season has won five consecutive games behind Prescott and heads into this week’s bye atop the NFC East with a 5-1 mark and tied for the second-best record in the NFC behind the undefeated Minnesota Vikings.
Owner Jerry Jones compared Sunday’s win to the season-defining victory the Cowboys had two years ago at the Seattle Seahawks, the last time the team won five consecutive games in a year in which they finished 12-4 and won the NFC East.
“I feel that it is a foundation builder,” Jones said. “It’s the kind of win that’s better than Seattle was two years ago. Yes, I’m surprised that we’re playing as well as we’ve played. But I’m happily surprised. We just want to keep this thing going forward, knowing in the NFL that the wheels could come off at any minute. There is no question that Dak and Zeke ... they’re inspiring the rest of the team.”
I dream of being able to make that decision [between a healthy Tony Romo and a winning Dak Prescott]. We’re not there right now, by the way. We are not there.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
It has turned the hypothetical of Prescott’s keeping the job when Romo returns to health from a fractured bone in his back, most likely for the Nov. 6 matchup against the Cleveland Browns, into a legitimate possibility.
There is little doubt that Prescott will start against the Philadelphia Eagles Oct. 30 following the bye, although Jones refuses to even go that far.
What he does promise, is that the Cowboys will not do anything to change their winning momentum.
“I’ll assure you one thing, as much as I believe in motivation and passion that I’m not for doing anything to throw cold water on that,” Jones said. “We’re going to have a very, very, very good situation to make decisions around. I’d rather do that, go into the last half of the season with a ready-to-go Tony Romo and a winning Dak Prescott. I dream of being able to make that decision. We’re not there right now, by the way. We are not there.”
Prescott passed Brady’s career-starting string of 162 passes without an interception in the first quarter and didn’t stop until his record streak of 176 ended with a third quarter interception by safety Morgan Burnett.
Of course, he followed that up with a 75-yard scoring drive, capped by his third touchdown pass of a day, a 4-yarder to Cole Beasley to make the score 27-9 and all but seal the victory.
He also had two fumbles in the game, but it didn’t take away from a winning performance.
“I thought Dak was outstanding,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It wasn’t always the cleanest for him. But line one for Dak Prescott up this point has been poise and composure to handle any situation. Didn’t surprise us one bit that he’d respond the right way to that. Made a lot of big plays after the interception to allow us to win the game.”
Prescott continues to respond the right way when talk turns to the impending quarterback decision. He acknowledged he want to keep the job, but said it’s Tony’s team and the decision is not up to him.
“It’s competitiveness in me,” Prescott said. “Everybody wants to be on the field. But as I’ve always said, it’s not my call. This is his team, this is Tony’s team, and I’m here to just help my team win each and every game I can.”
Prescott has the Cowboys winning and that is all the matters inside the locker room, which speaks volumes about their focus.
“We don’t think about what’s going on outside the building,” Garrett said. “We focus on what we are doing today. That is what the mindset is. Take care of Tuesday. Take care of Wednesday. Take care of Thursday, Friday and Saturday and go play on Sunday. That is what we try instill in our guys. They have responded well to that.”
Again, credit the Cowboys’ play on the field against the Packers, especially the running game with Elliott and the team’s dominant offensive line.
No running back had rushed for more than 52 yards against the Packers’ top-ranked run defense in the previous four games. The Packers had allowed 171 rushing yards total before the Cowboys had 33 carries for 191 yards Sunday.
The Cowboys wore down the Packers as Elliott had 16 carries for 97 yards in the second half.
“It starts up front with being physical and controlling the line of scrimmage,” Garrett said. “But the runner matters. He was physical throughout the game. And then as the game wore on you make bigger and bigger runs cause you are down hill at them and you wear them out.”
The defense did its part for the streaking Cowboys with a season-high four turnovers against an explosive Packers offense.
The Packers managed just 78 yards rushing Sunday, and quarterback Aaron Rogers was held in check. Defensive end David Irving tied a team record with three forced fumbles. He also had a sack and fumble recovery. Safety Barry Church also had a interception and a forced fumble.
For the sixth consecutive game, the Dallas defense did not allow a 100-yard rusher or a 100-yard receiver. Dallas is one of two teams (Minnesota) in the NFL to not allow a 100-yard rusher or 100-yard receiver in a single game, the longest such Cowboys streak since the team had six consecutive games to start the 2011 season.
The Cowboys feel good, and the smile on linebacker Sean Lee’s face in the locker room said it all. But they all say this is just the beginning of something they hope ends pretty “super.”
“I feel good, man,” said Lee, who had a team-high 12 tackles. “I was injured in 2014. I have not won this many games in a row. It’s great to be part of. It’s a great win. It shows we are working the right way. But it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t finish. We know what our ultimate goal is. We have more work to do.”